You probably opened this article for a quick scan and a “Yeah, ok man. Thanks for telling me the Timberwolves have started out well.”
But it’s not even just the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sure, their 11-3 mark is the best in franchise history through 14 games, but there’s a lot to be excited about across the league. When that happens, it makes everything just a little bit better. The product is better. It’s more fun to watch your team. It’s easier to become a consumer of the league, and there’s so much more motivation to attend games as well. I completely get it.
All of the above are fun things. We should celebrate it. I’ll elaborate below.
1) Western Conference Parity
The highest over-under win/loss total before the season in the Western Conference belonged to the Denver Nuggets at 52.5. The two lowest teams sat at 28.5 and 29.5, respectively in the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs. The Houston Rockets clocked in at 31.5.
But outside of Portland, does it really feel like there’s that big of a power gap on a night in and night out basis?
Denver currently sits outside of the first spot, and narrowly beat an ailing Detroit Pistons team the other night. The Rockets have been a pleasant two-way surprise this season, and personally remind me a lot of the 2021 Wolves squad that flew around and played with an edge.
Even a Spurs squad that’s pulled just three wins in this season so far is just scratching the surface of an ultra-talented three-level scoring rookie that, at his worst, is Kristaps Porzingis. In their own right, San Antonio punched the Wolves in the mouth for an entire half before the talent gap reared its head in Minnesota’s inaugural in-season tournament game, resulting in a win.
All of that being said before even covering the California teams, a Phoenix Suns team that are owners of a four game win streak without Bradley Beal, and promising squads in the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans. It makes everything fun. It makes every game feel like even the smallest step backward can be catastrophic, and the inverse meaning the same. Wolves fans know all too well the side effects of such a circumstance, but engagement in what can be a long season undeniably heightens. It just helps more when your team is off to a strong start.
I spent like 17 straight minutes this morning just chugging coffee and staring at the Western Conference standings I’m not sure the Timberwolves being good is beneficial for my health.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) November 19, 2023
2) Seismic Defensive Improvement
Watching a team that can’t defend is absolutely brutal.
From 2015 through 2020, the Wolves were a bottom 10, and in most cases, bottom 5 defensive team. Many times being able to score with anyone, it was hard to end possessions on the other end of the floor. Karl-Anthony Towns was being used as a paint anchor. It just didn’t work.
Even last season, injury held Rudy Gobert back from being his true self on the interior. The Wolves scheme was designed around funneling everything to him. While not terrible, it still didn’t work. D’Angelo Russell needed to be hidden on defense most of the time, as well.
Enter this season. The Wolves are in an ongoing battling with the Orlando Magic for best defensive rating in the league. Gobert looks healthy. Mike Conley knows his limits and uses his strength in navigating screens to his advantage. Karl-Anthony Towns has made massive leaps on that side of the ball.
There are currently 10 players with a +1 oEPM *and* dEPM, per DunksAndThrees.— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) November 21, 2023
Pretty fun list so far. pic.twitter.com/4MmwRp5xhF
Karl-Anthony Towns + Rudy Gobert defense, wow pic.twitter.com/8hTfdWcIyu— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) November 23, 2023
Effort level is high, too. That’s a tough thing to say on a nightly basis in the NBA.
While the Wolves will be missing Jaden McDaniels for an extended period of time, it’s a way to show off their defensive depth in deploying Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kyle Anderson. Alexander-Walker had a team high +22 against the Philadelphia 76ers and handled the Tyrese Maxey assignment for a lot of the evening.
Whether depth, scheme, or tangible, technical improvement, it’s a side of the ball that’s rolling, and something that’s been pretty unprecedented in recent franchise history.
3) Early Season Opposing Team Load Management
I don’t necessarily like this in general, but I think it’s been beneficial for the Wolves early on in finding their groove and stacking a few wins. So far, by my count the Wolves have gotten...
1.) Warriors with no Stephen Curry (Draymond and Klay also ejected)
2.) Pelicans with no Zion Williamson (twice)
3.) 76ers with no Joel Embiid
4.) Heat with no Jimmy Butler (who’s surprised on this one?)
There comes a point in time where we’ll want to see star players play at Target Center and test a defense that’s vying for the top spot in the league. We get games like the early season classic against the Boston Celtics.
But there’s also the aspect of the Wolves taking teams seriously that are down major pieces and putting them away to show that they can do this season what they were unable to last.
Chris Finch has been adamant that his team will play if available, and aren’t a “rest team”. What the other team does on a nightly basis will dictate what the Wolves will have to react to. However, the ability to play good teams with soft spots sans their top players has possibly allowed the Wolves to notch a couple more wins, and prove they can be a different team than last year.
4) The Fans Coming Back
Objectively speaking, Target Center has been absolutely electric thus far and a top tier basketball atmosphere.
For the first time in organization history, the Wolves have sold out seven games in a row, and coincidentally, carry an undefeated home record. It’s not just the fact that they’re winning games at home, but running opposing teams out of the gym.
The Wolves are now 7-0 at Target Center, their best home start to a season in franchise history.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) November 23, 2023
And they're not just winning, they're dominating.
Biggest leads in each home game...
I think it’s pretty underrated overall to see what’s going on. The Wolves have won in previous years, but it never proved to be something that could last over multiple years.
After all, We’re talking about historically, in terms of winning percentage, one of the worst teams in all of professional sports. Why would fans want to come and spend their money?
Well, now, it seems as though there’s something sustainable to believe in, and it’s a bit of a renaissance. How could you not enjoy that, no matter what team you root for? Keep doing your thing, Wolves fans. It’s clearly working, and fun to see as someone who grew up following this team in peak years starting in 2009...